The Armor of Light first started making the festival circuit in spring 2015, but since then the documentary—which confronts the gun policy debate in the context of American evangelicalism and the pro-life movement—has only become more relevant. Director Abigail Disney describes herself as a “pro-choice feminist,” but she grew up around her family’s conservative politics (yes, those Disneys—Walt was her great-uncle) and her interest in the issue sparked the film’s genesis.
The film (which takes its name from Romans 13:12) follows Rev. Rob Schenck, perhaps best known for his deep involvement as a pro-life activist in the early 1990s. Today, Schenck is president of Faith and Action in Washington, D.C. and chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance. Following a mass shooting event that took place not far from his home, Schenck began to seriously wrestle with his own views on gun violence and policy and its relationship to his firm position on abortion - is it possible to be both pro-gun and pro-life? He meets Lucy McBath, a Christian woman whose unarmed teenage son Jordan Davis was shot and killed. Davis’s case is now a major part of the ongoing debate over Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. A friendship develops between them, prompting Schenck to initiate a series of conversations around the country with evangelical leaders, questioning whether being pro-gun and pro-life are compatible positions.
I saw the film last April at the Tribeca Film Festival, in a room full of New Yorkers, and wrote about it in my festival round-up. It’s a challenging film. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable. I can’t imagine anyone, regardless of their beliefs, leaving the theater without something to seriously consider. And though The Armor of Light is undeniably well-made and compelling, what startled me most is its incredibly sensitive and nuanced portrayal of Schenck and other evangelicals with whom he interacts.
I was delighted to talk to Abby Disney and Rob Schenck, who remain grounded in their respective (and opposite) political views - Disney is still a pro-choice feminist, and Schenck is still a pro-life evangelical - but whose friendship and mutual respect for one another is palpable even over the phone. (What follows was edited slightly for clarity.)
The Genesis of the Project
Christianity Today: How did you two get involved with this project?
Abigail Disney: I had heard about the gun issue for a really long time and I was thinking about what would be the way to get people talking and thinking about this issue—in a way that wouldn’t inflame people, but would get them talking with each other. That would inflame the conscience and feel like a new contribution to the ideas. All we’re doing is going around and around and around about the same four to five ideas.
Evangelical Christians in the pro-life movement generally have a view about sanctity of life which I think is beautiful—even though I’m a pro-choice feminist myself, I support life. I really did wonder how that could stand side by side with the gun discourse, which is so casual about the gun itself—even about the language of taking human life; I call it the yippee-kai-yay culture. I don’t understand how those two things line up, so I went looking for people to talk to.
I talked to three or four other people before talking to Rob [Schenck]. Rob was someone who really heard me, and really heard what I had to say. Obviously, he was more nuanced than I was. And it really in one conversation, his ears perked up. He recognized that there was an inconsistency, and that this was important. So, based on that conversation, a much larger conversation started with the film.